Witnesses expected to connect murder of three Christians with political conspiracy.

MALATYA, Turkey, January 20 (Compass Direct News) – Lawyers in the case of three Christians who were murdered for their faith here are lining up witnesses in an effort to expand the accused from five young suspects to subversive forces at the top of state power.

Evidence in recent hearings suggests the April 2007 murders in southeast Turkey were instigated by Ergenekon, a loose collection of ultra-nationalist generals, businessmen, mafia and journalists who planned to engineer a coup d’état in Turkey.

At a hearing at Malatya’s Third Criminal Court on Friday (Jan. 16), plaintiff attorneys said they would like to call as a witness Ergun Poyraz, a journalist arrested in 2007 who has been linked to Ergenekon. Prosecuting attorneys said they believe that Poyraz, who has written inflammatory rhetoric against missionaries and accused Turkey’s prime minister of being part of a Zionist conspiracy, was not directly involved in planning the murders but has important knowledge of the players within Ergenekon.

The lawyers said they hope his testimony will help sort out the tangled web of connections and determine the role of Malatya security forces in the attack, particularly that of the chief of police in the district, Ali Osman Kahya.

“In the course of the publishing house murders, Ali Osman Kahya was the head of Malatya security forces, which is no coincidence,” said plaintiff attorney Murat Dincer. He said Kahya had been in similar positions of authority during other political murders.

Other lawyers involved in the case said they are less hopeful, believing Poyraz will only use his testimony as a platform for political grandstanding and propaganda for the political conspiracy.

“I don’t believe he will be helpful,” one legal worker told Compass. “I think he will only put on a show and manipulate the subject.”

Poyraz was arrested in 2007 for having connections to the Association for the Union of Patriotic Forces, a group whose members include military men also indicted in Ergenekon. Turkish media recently revealed that Poyraz had been keeping detailed records on high-level military officials prior to his arrest, according to Today’s Zaman national daily.

The team of plaintiff lawyers has requested Poyraz’s written statements from the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court.

The court in Malatya has sent an informal inquiry to the prosecutor of the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul asking if there is a concrete connection between the Ergenekon case and the Malatya murders. If the prosecutor replies positively, the Malatya court will decide whether to integrate the murder trial with the Ergenekon case.

If the cases are not integrated, then the five young suspects will likely be tried for murder in a matter of months, and all will receive life sentences, said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who leads the team of plaintiff lawyers who represent the interests of the victims’ families.

Lawyers said they believe establishing the guilt of the suspects should be a straightforward process, but Cengiz said that if the case is integrated into Ergenekon, “then it will continue forever.”

No witnesses testified at the Friday hearing. The plaintiff team eventually hopes to bring 21 witnesses to the stand in subsequent hearings.


Impact on Defense

Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were brutally tortured and killed at a publishing house in Malatya on April 18, 2007.

Emre Gunaydin – the suspected ringleader – along with Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, who have been in jail for the past 18 months, are accused of the murder. They were all between 19 and 21 years old at the time of the crime.

The Malatya trial judges and defense attorneys are also adjusting their legal proceedings in light of the case’s incipient expansion from a murder case to an investigation into the political conspiracy. Noting that there could have been others involved in the murder, Presiding Judge Eray Gurktekin quoted an article from the Turkish Penal Code that states a punishment can be reduced if the guilty party is found to be solicited for the crime.

“You should think about considering this,” he said to defense lawyers.

The lawyer for Gunaydin said he had reminded his client of this article, and that they wanted to pursue this legal line in the next hearing.

Plaintiff attorneys won a minor legal victory that had eluded them in earlier hearings: The hearings will now be recorded. In previous months Malatya judges refused three plaintiff requests to record the trial hearings.

In February 2008 an Istanbul court allowed the first courtroom taping of a trial hearing at the trial of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist assassinated in 2007.


Unearthing Plot

Earlier this month, Turkish police uncovered major arms caches by excavating sites connected to Ergenekon members. Security forces believe the weapons indicated the future plans of the group and their violent activates in the past.

Two weeks ago a new wave of detentions revealed evidence that the group was planning to assassinate the prime minister, members of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and Armenian community leaders.

Older Ergenekon documents make mention of church members in Turkey in Izmir, Mersin and Trabzon. Members of those churches were attacked or killed in following years. This month a 19-year-old Muslim in Izmir was sentenced to prison for stabbing a Catholic priest in 2007.

The Ergenekon organization has been blamed for the murder of other high-profile Christians. Ergin Cinmen, the lawyer for the family of Dink, has called for an investigation into the links between Ergenekon, the Malatya massacre and the murders of Dink and Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian priest killed in Trabzon in 2006.

He made these comments in the context of recently discovered plans to attack the Armenian community of Sivas in central Turkey, according to Bianet, an online Turkish news service.

In the last year, police have arrested more than 100 people in the ongoing Ergenekon case, which has been the dominant event in Turkish media for several months.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Crime scene video sobers courtroom; accused killers either grin or grow sick.

MALATYA, Turkey, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – The five young Turkish men accused of torturing and killing three Christians in Malatya last year may have been incited by members of a vast political conspiracy allegedly responsible for multiple murders in recent years.

The 10th hearing on the murder of three Christians at a publishing house in southeast Turkey 16 months ago took place yesterday (Aug. 21) at the Malatya Third Criminal Court. Plaintiff attorneys requested the case be integrated with an investigation into Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in various murders.

In January police uncovered and started arresting members of Ergenekon. A criminal investigation has linked them to high-profile attacks, murders and plans to engineer domestic chaos and ultimately overthrow the government.

Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were brutally tortured and killed on April 18, 2007 in the southeastern Turkish city of Malatya.

Evidence suggests Emre Gunaydin, the suspected ringleader of the murderers, was in contact with at least two people connected to Ergenekon: a retired brigadier general and a journalist. The latter, Varol Bulent Aral, told Gunaydin he saw a connection between missionaries and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist organization.

At yesterday’s hearing, presiding Judge Eray Gurtekin asked Gunaydin if he knew a former general and a political leader indicted in Ergenekon.

Gurtekin showed Gunaydin a note he had written last year while recovering in hospital from injuries he sustained after jumping out a third-story window while trying to escape police after the murder. His note said, “Don’t tell Levent.”

When the judge asked who this was, Gunaydin replied that he didn’t remember. Pressing further, Gurtekin asked him if he knew Levent Ersoz, a retired brigadier general indicted in the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy, or Levent Temiz, former head of the ultranationalist Ulku Ocaklari youth organization.

Gunaydin said he didn’t know the two men. Metin Dogan, a witness at the last hearing, said he and Gunaydin were involved in Ulku Ocaklari together. Gunaydin has denied knowing Dogan or having any involvement in the group.

Neither the widows of Aydin and Geske nor parents of Yuksel attended yesterday’s hearing. The martyred Christians left behind five children and Yuksel’s fiancée.

On the morning of the trial, Zaman national daily reported on further connections between the Malatya killings and Ergenekon. Gunaydin had been in contact with local journalist Aral, who had connections with Ergenekon and was called as a witness for the July 4 hearing.

Aral was arrested in another Turkish city while in possession of a Kalashnikov assault rifle. A week before the three Christians were killed in 2007, Gunaydin visited Aral in prison.

In January Malatya police found Aral’s diary, containing contact information for ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, who was indicted in the Ergenekon affair. Previously Kerincsiz had pressed charges against two Turkish Christians for “insulting Islam” and charged Armenian journalist Hrant Dink with insulting Turkishness. Dink was assassinated in January 2007.

Gunaydin said in a statement that Aral told him that there was a connection between the PKK and foreign missionaries. The goal of Christian missionary work in Turkey, Aral said, was to destroy the motherland.

“I asked him if someone shouldn’t stop this,” Gunaydin said. “He told me to get up and stop this. When I asked him how this will be done, he said, ‘We will provide state support.’”


Graphic Footage

Possible evidence of such state support for the murders was shown at the most recent hearing, when plaintiff lawyers showed police video footage of the crime scene taken hours after the murder on April 18.

The footage suggests someone tampered with evidence at the crime scene. According to the video, a handgun found at the crime scene was too large to fit into its gun box, indicating weapons had been swapped.

“This shows there is someone protecting these suspects,” said plaintiff attorney Murat Dincer. “If someone in the investigation changed the guns, then there is another force behind the scenes.”

Police could be overheard in the audio track arguing whether the guns were the same or not. Dincer requested this footage be replayed so the court could hear the police having the argument. The court has requested an expert witness to testify about the guns for the next hearing.

The court has not allowed release of any copies of this footage, and even attorneys were allowed to watch it only under supervision.

The hearing produced emotional moments for the victims’ acquaintances. Close-up shots of the victims showed their bodies mutilated and lying in pools of their own blood.

While some in the court teared up at the close-ups of the victims, suspects Gunaydin and Salih Gurler were seen grinning at times during the display of the footage.

Some of the five suspects looked away from the video during the gruesome scenes. The judge then ordered them to keep watching: “It’s because of you we are watching this. Look at it.”

Defendant Abuzer Yildirim turned around and told the judge he could not continue to watch because his stomach couldn’t handle it.


Absent Witnesses

Only one of eight witnesses summoned to testify attended yesterday’s hearing. Huseyin Yelki, 34, testified he was working part-time at Zirve’s Malatya office when Gunaydin and two other men visited there, about a month or six weeks before the murders, he recalled.

Gunaydin introduced himself, saying he wanted to meet Necati Aydin. But when Yelki telephoned Aydin and learned he would be coming to the office an hour later, the three men left. Yelki, who walks with a cane, said he never saw them again and could not remember their faces.

According to the murder suspects’ testimonies, Gunaydin had told them that it would be easy to get information from a man with a lame leg who worked at the Zirve office.

Despite previous court orders for police to track down and force three of the witnesses to appear, the court was informed that no current addresses had been located for any of the seven absent witnesses.


Ergenekon Connection

The court has requested the file on the Ergenekon investigation.

After the hearing, attorney Ozkan Yucel said the plaintiff team has requested the entire indictment file from the Ergenekon case in Istanbul on a DVD. The next hearing will be on Sept. 12.

There has been a wave of attacks and threats against Christians across Turkey in recent years, and documents suggest these events are related.

In the first Malatya hearing in November, plaintiff attorneys presented a surprise demand to broaden the prosecution from an isolated case of terrorism to the criminal code statutes against religious “genocide.”

In a January hearing, formal requests to remove 16 files of information about the religious activities of the three Christians and to charge the perpetrators with “religious genocide” were denied.

Confiscated Ergenekon files show the group apparently tracked even the smallest actions of Christians in Turkey. A Jan. 7, 2005 statement made cryptic mention of church members in Izmir, Mersin, and Trabzon: “Those who have recently accepted Christianity show increasing devotion to their own rules,” the file said, according to Radikal national daily on Aug. 14.

Members of those churches have been attacked or killed in following years. In February 2006 a youth shot and killed Father Andrea Santoro in the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon. The same year, a 19-year-old man stabbed Father Adriano Franchini in Izmir.

Although yesterday’s hearing avoided the theatrics of the previous hearing on July 4, when defense attorneys tried to link Malatya’s Christian missionaries with the PKK, there was one hot outburst when a defense attorney asked why there were so many foreigners living in Malatya. The plaintiff attorneys then rose to their feet in protest, declaring the question irrelevant to the case.

Plaintiff lawyer Ozkan Yucel spoke to the Turkish press outside the courthouse after the hearing. He said the plaintiff lawyers wanted the Ergenekon file to find a relationship between the Malatya and Ergenekon investigations and possibly combine them.

“I am of the opinion this will be combined with Ergenekon investigation,” he said. “We may request they be combined at the next hearing.”  

Report from Compass Direct News